The wait is over – and visitors to the London Wine Fair have already had a sneak preview. We can announce the winners of this year’s Wine Merchant Top 100 and a very deserving lot they are too.
Let’s be clear – this year’s winners had to work very hard to get their reward. Our entry field was the biggest yet. And our judges – all of them lovely people – were pretty ferocious in their judging. It wasn’t enough for a wine to be “good” or even “excellent”. Our judges are all independent wine merchants and we asked them to approach the competition entries in the same way as they would with any wines vying for a place on their shelves.
This inevitably leads to the questions: is this wine worth the money? Do I already list examples of the style that offer better value? Is it a wine that I’d be happy to put my name to? In short … would I sell it?
Established independents are leading growth in the sector with Oeno, Planet of the Grapes, Vagabond Wines and Bottle Apostle all planning to open new sites in the next few months.
In August wine shop-cum-wine bar pioneer Planet of the Grapes is to close its original location in London’s New Oxford Street and replace it with a bigger site nearby in Holborn’s exclusive Sicilian Avenue.
It also aiming for a July opening for a shop and bar in the former home of Fox, an iconic City umbrella retailer and gents’ tailor.
The listed building has a famous art deco frontage and neon sign featuring the name of the original business, so Planet of the Grapes will trade from there under the Fox name with secondary signage to emphasise “fine wines and spirits”.
Other notable features include a curved bomb-proof window installed in World War II and pre-war interior cabinetry.
“We’re very excited to get our hands on it,” says owner Matt Harris. “It’s a beautiful building. You can’t change the sign, so it made sense just to use the name rather than go with something like ‘Planet of the Grapes at Fox’.
“But in terms of the wine, the buying and the operation, it’s very much owned and run by Planet of the Grapes.”
The shop, at 18 London Wall, will be over five floors: a kitchen in the basement, shop on the ground floor, dining on the first floor; a less formal lounge bar on the second; and an office at the top.
“We’re still retail,” says Harris. “We don’t want to lose what we’ve had at Holborn over the last 10 years but we want to be somewhere where you can come to buy wine and stay and have some food and a drink if you want to.
“There’s a pocket in that part of the City where there’s nowhere you can go to buy wine unless you’re going to a supermarket.”
The changes bring the group up to four locations, with its sites in Bow Lane and Leadenhall staying unchanged.
“That will probably be it for me for at least two years,” says Harris, “but I’d never say never and if the right site came up we could do it.”
Yesterday 16 of the independent wine trade’s finest gathered in west London to put this year’s entrants in The Wine Merchant Top 100 through their paces.
Do we know who the winners are yet? Almost. But not quite. We’re just doing a final check of the spreadsheets, scores and tasting notes, making sure all the technical stuff is in order, and then we’ll be ready to announce. Come along to Stand A10 at the London Wine Fair to see what wines came out on top, and more importantly to taste them.
Thanks to all our judges who gave up a day of their valuable time to take part. They did a sterling job as always. The wine trade is in safe hands.